Background & aims: The Notch signaling pathway is required for the expansion of undifferentiated pancreatic progenitor cells during embryonic development and has been implicated in the progression of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). The interaction of Notch ligands with their receptors promotes a gamma-secretase-dependent cleavage of the Notch receptor and release of the Notch intracellular domain, which translocates to the nucleus and activates transcription. We investigated the role of this pathway in PDAC progression.
Methods: We tested the effects of a gamma-secretase inhibitor (GSI) that blocks Notch signaling in PDAC cell lines and a genetically engineered mouse model of PDAC (Kras p53 L/+ mice).
Results: Notch signaling was activated in PDAC precursors and advanced tumors. The GSI inhibited the growth of premalignant pancreatic duct-derived cells in a Notch-dependent manner. Additionally, in a panel of over 400 human solid tumor-derived cell lines, PDAC cells, as a group, were more sensitive to the GSI than any other tumor type. Finally, the GSI completely inhibited tumor development in the genetically engineered model of invasive PDAC (P < .005, chi2 test; compared with mice exposed to vehicle).
Conclusions: These results suggest that Notch signaling is required for PDAC progression. Pharmacologic targeting of this pathway offers therapeutic potential in this treatment-refractory malignancy.